The re-opening of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba is the biggest success for the Vatican’s ultra-discreet diplomacy for at least 30 years. Our picture above, taken from the live telecast on Cuba’s TN channel shows President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro simultaneously announcing plans to normalise their nations’ economic and diplomatic relations after more than half a century of acrimony. As the leaders of both countries acknowledged in their statements, Pope Francis and his envoys had played key roles in healing the breach. The only comparable success for papal mediation was in 1984 when Vatican diplomats helped to end a potentially explosive border dispute between Chile and Argentina over the possession of three strategically located islands in the Beagle Channel at the southern tip of South America. Whether by coincidence or design, news of the historic reconciliation emerged on the day Francis celebrated his 78th birthday.
All sides agreed that the contact between the two sides gained vital extra momentum from letters the Pope sent to Presidents Obama and Castro last summer. The Vatican said the letters called on the two countries “to resolve humanitarian questions of common interest, including the situation of certain prisoners, in order to initiate a new phase in relations”. The Vatican also hosted delegations from the two countries at what were said to have been the talks at which the breakthrough was made. Kenneth Hackett, the US ambassador to the Holy See, said a senior Vatican official had “played an important part in this historic moment by meeting with US and Cuban delegations in October to help bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion”. Announcing the thawing of relations between the two countries, Mr. Obama said he wanted to “in particular” thank the Pope. The President praised his “moral example, showing the world as it should be, rather than simply settling for the world as it is.”
Fidel Castro and his younger brother, who has been Cuba's leader since 2008, have deftly played Russia against the United States for decades, keeping alive the unspoken threat that the Kremlin's omnipotent might was at the ready should the leftist revolutionaries need a defender.
Cuba and Russia are also reportedly in the process of renewing intelligence collaboration. After Putin's visit to Cuba in July pictured above, the Russian business newspaper Kommersant reported that the two nations' presidents agreed to reopen the former Soviet base in Lourdes, just west of Havana on the coast. Reopening the base mothballed in 2001 was part of a deal between the Cold War allies to write off $30 billion in Soviet-era debt that Havana owed Moscow. Part of the Lourdes base, which was used as a listening post on U.S. military and maritime activities across the strait, was converted to a Cuban computer science training center a decade ago and part of it was left unattended.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, leaders of the U.S. and the Soviet Union engaged in a tense, 13-day political and military standoff in October 1962 over the installation of nuclear-armed Soviet missiles on Cuba, just 90 miles from U.S. shores. In a TV address on October 22, 1962, President John Kennedy (1917-63) notified Americans about the presence of the missiles, explained his decision to enact a naval blockade around Cuba and made it clear the U.S. was prepared to use military force if necessary to neutralize this perceived threat to national security. Following this news, many people feared the world was on the brink of nuclear war. However, disaster was avoided when the U.S. agreed to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s (1894-1971) offer to remove the Cuban missiles in exchange for the U.S. promising not to invade Cuba. Kennedy also secretly agreed to remove U.S. missiles from Turkey.
Tourism is the major source of foreign currency to the Cuban economy, and the new diplomatic solution should further increase the number of visitors to Havanna. The capital is a visual smorgasbord of colours, cars and cigars – from free demos at artist workshops to drinks at Hemingway's old haunts, you're going to need a few days to see the sights.
After the joy of the last week's Christmas Party, Members could set diplomacy aside and concentrate on the serious competition of our regular Club Night yesterday evening. You can read all about the evening's play in the Report by clicking on the "Competitions" tab in the Menu to the left of this box. Alternatively you can peruse the full Leaderboard and the individual Travellers by clicking on the "Latest Result" button at the top right of this page.